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UC Food Safety

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Partnering for a safe and strong summer

School is back in session and students across the nation are busy in the classroom and cafeteria learning and eating. But what happens to students in the summer months when school is out? Research suggests a summer learning achievement gap occurs between children from low income communities and their higher income peers when school is out. Even more, summer has been called “the hungriest time of the year” for low-income children who rely on school meals to get enough food during the school year. 

Nutrition Educators lead physical activity games at summer food sites

In response to the summer hunger problem, the USDA created the Summer Food Service Program to give schools, agencies, non-profits, etc., the funding to be able to offer free meals to children 18 years and younger at approved low-income sites. Still, as of summer 2015, the summer meal program remained underutilized when compared to the number of low-income children accessing school meals during the regular school year.


Physical activity is fun!


To offer excellent programming and increase participation in the summer food program, partnering agencies in Santa Maria worked to provide physical activity, nutrition education and other summer enrichment programming at local city parks in conjunction with the Summer Food Service Program. The Safe and Strong All Summer Long program was coordinated through the Santa Maria City Recreation and Parks to provide free, drop-in recreation opportunities from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. in parks throughout the city all summer. Meals were brought to the parks and served for one hour by the local food bank and Community Action Commission staff and volunteers.


Nutrition lesson and Rethink Your Drink with families

SNAP-Ed funded agencies have been encouraged to partner with Summer Food Service Programs, though the logistics of working with different agencies and providing education programs in non-traditional settings isn't always easy or clear. During summer 2016, UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators in Santa Barbara County partnered with the Safe and Strong All Summer Long food program to provide staff training and support for family enrichment and physical activities. UC CalFresh staff kicked off the partnership by leading a one-day CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Physical Activity training for over 20 Recreation & Parks staff. CATCH focuses on inclusive physical education that keeps youth engaged and active. After the training and throughout the summer, UC staff participated weekly at two park summer meal sites encouraging youth and their families to get physically active, drink water and eat healthy. UC staff continued to provide guidance and training on-site to Recreation & Parks staff on how to engage a variety of youth of all ages in fun physical activities.


CATCH training with Recreation & Parks staff

Several other partner agencies also provided engaging programming to parents while the youth were eating their lunches. The local hospital and County Public Health Department conducted food demonstrations and distributed healthy recipe food samples to parents at sites throughout the city.

In a focus group conducted in June 2016 with parents from the local school district, parents commented that they would like more information and ideas about how and where to do physical activities as a family. Participants commented that they appreciated that their children were learning how to be physically active at school, but it would be helpful to have information on how to involve the whole family: parents, siblings and all of the family so they could get exercise and enjoy their time together.

By providing free drop-in programming at local parks, in conjunction with free meals for youth, the Safe and Strong All Summer Long partnership was able to provide access to safe spaces for families to come together during the summer to be physically active and reduce food insecurity.

UC CalFresh Nutrition Educator Miguel Dia, commented that the best part of the summer partnership was “engaging the youth in a variety of different games and seeing all the different age groups participating. By the end of the summer, the older youth were actually teaching the younger youth how to do the CATCH activities.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 11:13 AM

The well-rounded pumpkin: A versatile vegetable

UC Master Food Preservers volunteers can instruct on safe preservation techniques for pumpkin flesh. (Photo: Pixabay)
From seed to table or as seeds on the table, there are many edible forms of this staple fall decoration. While some ease their teeth into the lightly cooked tender green shoots of the plant, the majority of people know the pumpkin in its spherical orange form, with a few teeth missing. But what is the life of a pumpkin outside of an embellishment to autumn and Halloween décor?

In addition to those grown for use as jack-o-lanterns, varieties such as Sugar Pie and Fairytale work well in the kitchen. 

The seeds                                                                                  

Seeds become crunchy snacks when dried and roasted. For both techniques, thoroughly remove the stringy bits of flesh that cling to the outer layer of the seed. Dry at 115⁰-120⁰F for 1 to 2 hours in a home dehydrator or in a warm oven for 3 to 4 hours; alternatively, seeds can be dried in the sun. Rotate seeds regularly to promote even drying and avoid scorching. Dried seeds can then be roasted in a 250⁰F oven with a light spritz of oil and salt for 10 to 15 minutes.

The flesh

Wash the exterior of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and accompanying fibrous strands. The flesh can be skinned and cubed into 1-inch pieces as a starting point. Some home preservation options include:

  • Pressure canning – in CUBES only. Do not mash or puree. Put that food processor away; keep botulism at bay.

Note that contents can be mashed when removing the jar from the pantry for use in such foods as pumpkin butter, ice cream, and pie all year round.

  • Drying –
    • in 1/8-inch thick pieces for a chewy snack.
    • make a leather: cook and puree flesh with honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This is an appropriate and safe use of that food processor.

  • Freeze – cook, mash, cool and freeze for future use.
The seeds can be dried, roasted, or even saved to plant next year. (Photo: Unsplash)

Want to learn more about the details of these processes? Take a UC Master Food Preserver class or ask a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer. Many programs are accepting applicants for upcoming trainings.  The UC Master Food Preserver Program is open to individuals looking to increase community knowledge in home food preservation methods. Applicants for the UC Master Food Preserver Program must be willing to share knowledge and skills learned from the certification training through local community outreach. Prior food preservation knowledge is not a requirement; willingness to teach others is.

Come full circle by saving seeds for next year's garden. Keep seeds and preserved pumpkin products in a cool, dry place until ready to use. Plant seeds in June for an October harvest and go easy on the water – pumpkins make the list of water wise vegetables, according to the UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County. The Pumpkin Production in California publication notes, “Excessive irrigation aggravates root and stem rot problems and increases humidity in the lower canopy, which contributes to foliage and fruit disease.”

If time cannot be carved out for pumpkin preserving this year, the UC Davis Arboretum offers a Carve ‘n Compost workshop later this month. With all these options, be sure to enjoy this October's harvest in one of its many forms.

Pumpkins come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and are used to decorate or consume. (Photo: Katelyn Ogburn)
Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 8:23 PM

Merits of the proposed soda tax

Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, is senior director of research at the UC Nutrition Policy Institute.
In November, voters in Oakland, Albany and San Francisco will have an opportunity to make a real difference in the health and well-being of local residents. In all three communities, modest “soda tax” measures are on the ballot. These measures would place a small tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Two years ago, Berkeley voters approved the first soda tax in the country. Folks in Berkeley pay a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks including sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled sweet tea and coffee drinks. Tax revenues from the first year totaled approximately $1.4 million dollars.

I serve as a member of the Berkeley Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission appointed by the City Council. This group is tasked with advising City Council on measures the Council can take to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley.

So far, the City Council has allocated a total of $2 million toward reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and their harmful health impacts. At the recommendation of the experts panel, Berkeley has funded health and wellness activities in Berkeley schools through Berkeley Unified School District's cooking and gardening programming, and a variety of strategies by community agencies to educate residents and increase healthy beverage environments in the city.

Those of us working in the area of nutrition science know that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is the most effective way to reduce rates of obesity, diabetes and related health conditions. The greatest source of sugar in the diets of children is sugar-sweetened beverages.

We also now know that the Berkeley tax to date has been a spectacular success. A study published in August by UC Berkeley scientists shows a 21 percent drop in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley's low-income neighborhoods. In comparison, low-income neighborhoods saw a 4 percent increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the same periodin San Francisco, where a soda tax was defeated in 2014, and in Oakland, which also doesn't currently have a soda tax. The American Beverage Association, which has spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat various soda tax proposals, opposes soda-tax ballot measures in our communities, and is using advertising campaigns and door-to-door canvassing that spread carefully crafted and misleading messages to voters.

The Bay Area has long been an early adopter of many important ideas, initiating movements that have spread across the country. Will Oakland, Albany and San Francisco follow Berkeley's lead to a healthier future for their communities?

Posted on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 9:53 AM

October is National Farm-to-School Month

Partner with the University of California for National Farm to School Month.
Schools across the country are celebrating local connections to local food producers in October during National Farm to School Month. Education and outreach activities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and field trips are teaching students about healthy, local foods and food's journey from the farm to their forks.

There are plenty of opportunities for teachers and schools to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). Here are a few ideas to get you started.

4-H youth development

Launch a 4-H Club at your school. The 4-H Youth Development Program emphasizes enrichment education through inquiry-based learning. Core content areas include Healthy Living as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Clubs have access to a wealth of curricula materials exploring food, agriculture and natural resources. 4-H also offers the Ag in the Classroom school enrichment program.

Lettuce planting delights young gardeners.
Boots on the ground

Invite UC ANR academics and program staff to your career day or science fair or to make a classroom presentation. Specialists from Master Gardeners, Nutrition Education, Project Learning Tree, California Naturalist and other UC ANR programs know how to engage and inspire your students.

Some programs, including Project Learning Tree, offer "train the trainer" professional development workshops that equip educators with the skills and knowledge to teach concepts in their own classrooms. Project Learning Tree also provides free activity guides to teachers who attend their workshops. The guides highlight differentiated instruction, reading connections, and assessment strategies and offer ideas to integrate technology into classroom instruction,

Research and Extension Centers

Take your students on a field trip to a UC ANR Research and Extension Center (REC). The nine RECs in California are focal points for community participation and for active involvement in current and relevant regional agricultural and natural resource challenges.

Visiting a REC offers students a unique opportunity to learn about food production through the lens of applied science research in plant pathology, integrated pest management, conservation tillage, water conservation, development of new crop varieties, and much more. Some RECs also host extended education programs such as Sustainable You! Summer Camp and FARM SMART.

Students learn about post-harvest research at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Take the first step

The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme is One Small Step, which highlights the easy ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country.

Each week will have a different focus:

  • Education (October 3-7)
  • Healthy School Meals (October 10-14)
  • Farmers & Producers (October 17-21)
  • The Next Generation (October 24-28)

Join the celebrations by signing the One Small Step pledge then take your own small step to support healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities this October by partnering with UC ANR.


Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 7:29 AM

Tasty tree fruit in good hands

Researchers from UC Davis and Washington State University Extension are conducting research and workshops helping answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. Photo by Emily Kunz - WIFSS

In mid-September in California's Sacramento Valley the weather begins to tease us with the sense that fall is on its way. Interestingly, as the nights drop in temperature so too drops the desire for the fresh fruits we've enjoyed all summer. The melons, peaches, and plums have dwindled or disappeared from hometown fruit stands and our taste buds are being tickled by the site of the golden pears and the multiple varieties of apples newly arrived from local orchards.

Late in September our antennae go up at the sight of the colorful variety of sparkling fresh apples. During the summer months the abundance of fresh fruit might cause us not to reach for an apple, other than to pay attention to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The sight of the Washington sticker on the apple changes everything.

It's understood that it takes water to grow the fruit we consume. Something likely not appreciated is that researchers from the University of California and the Washington State tree fruit industry are working to understand the risk that water used to grow tree fruit may pose for human health. Water is a vehicle for bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Water quality training seminars for growers that have to comply with new water testing requirements have already begun in Washington with the leadership of UC Davis researchers such as Melissa Partyka, Ronald Bond, and Jennifer Chase and Ines Hanrahan of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Planning for others is underway in many other regions of the United States. These workshops are spreading the word about proper methods for obtaining accurate water samples in order to be in compliance with regulations in the Produce Safety Rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Partyka, a staff researcher and doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis, Bond, a water quality researcher and the field research manager, and Chase, a doctoral student in the Graduate Group in Epidemiology, are all in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, which is within the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. Dr. Hanrahan has become a valuable partner and liaison to the tree fruit industry, helping to both organize and staff the inaugural workshops while advocating for greater collaboration between UC Davis and Washington State University Extension.

The UC Davis team of Partyka, Bond, and Chase, have been in Washington State conducting research and workshops, which will help answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. For instance, whether growers can sample cooperatively and the impact of hold-times on testing accuracy. The trio are members of the Western Center for Food Safety, (WCFS), a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, tasked to conduct research directly related to the FSMA food safety rule for agriculture water.

Bond, Chase and Partyka are featured in an article titled “Simple steps for water sampling” published in the July issue of Good Fruit Grower Magazine. The article, which helps demystify sampling for regulatory compliance, was based on interviews held during the agricultural water quality workshops conducted by these three in Washington last May.  The main article is accompanied by two additional guides: one titled “The math of food safety,” explaining the math required for agricultural water testing and “Water sampling 101,” a simple list of dos and don'ts for water sampling.

The rows of corn stalks have dried in the summer sun. The harvest moon will soon greet us in the evening sky. As our senses tingle with the oncoming change of season, the sound of the crunch of a juicy apple is music to our ears. Is it time to start melting the caramel?

Apple orchard in Yakima, WA, with mylar film for ripening. Photo by Ronald Bond - WIFSS
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 3:26 PM

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